U.S. Energy Department’s ARPA-E Announces $27 Million for Transformational Grid Technologies

Monday, November 25, 2013

14 New ARPA-E Projects in 9 States Will Accelerate Innovation in Grid Transmission and Control Technologies

Washington, D.C. -- ARPA-E Deputy Director Cheryl Martin today announced $27 million in funding from the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) for 14 projects aimed at developing next-generation power conversion devices that could dramatically transform how power is controlled and converted throughout the grid. The projects selected today under ARPA-E’s SWITCHES program, short for “Strategies for Wide-Bandgap, Inexpensive Transistors for Controlling High-Efficiency Systems,” aim to find innovative ways to lower the cost and improve the efficiency of power electronics.  

In modern energy infrastructure, today’s power electronics are based on decades-old technology and rely on expensive, bulky, and failure-prone components. To address these critical inefficiencies, SWITCHES seeks to lower the cost and improve the energy efficiency of power switching devices. These devices are critical to America’s infrastructure because all electronics—from laptops to electric motors—rely on them to control or converted electrical energy from a high voltage to low a voltage in order to properly operate. On a large scale, high-power electronics are used to connect solar panels and wind turbines to the grid, to operate industrial equipment like elevators and HV/AC systems, and to run electric and hybrid-electric vehicles.  

“In order to transform America’s energy infrastructure, we will need innovative technology options that can radically improve how we convert and use electricity,” said Deputy Director Martin.  “The low-cost power electronic projects ARPA-E announced today could result in some of the critical components needed to update our aging infrastructure and reduce power losses from the grid.”

ARPA-E’s SWITCHES projects are creating innovative new wide-bandgap semiconductor materials, device architectures, and fabrication processes to enable increased energy density and switching frequencies, enhanced temperature control, and reduced power losses in a range of power electronics applications for electric motor drives and power switching devices for the grid. Information on all projects announced today is available HERE.

The 14 projects selected for the SWITCHES program are performing their research at a combination of universities, businesses, and national labs. For example, the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) will receive $3 million to develop several new vertical gallium nitride semiconductor technologies that will enhance the performance and reduce the cost of high-power electronics. UCSB’s devices could reduce power losses to enable high-power conversion at low cost in motor drives, electric vehicles, and power grid applications. 

Eight of the 14 SWITCHES projects announced today are small businesses being funded through ARPA-E’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program. For example, MicroLink Devices, a company located in Niles, Illinois, will receive $1.7 million to engineer affordable, high-performance transistors needed for power conversion. Currently, high-performance power transistors are prohibitively expensive because they are grown on expensive gallium nitride semiconductor wafers. In conventional manufacturing processes, this expensive wafer is permanently attached to the transistor, so the wafer can only be used once. MicroLink Devices will develop an innovative method to remove the transistor structure from the wafer without damaging any components, enabling wafer reuse while significantly reducing costs.

For more information about ARPA-E, current funding opportunities, and previously announced awards please visit: http://arpa-e.energy.gov/.

ARPA-E was officially authorized in 2007 and first funded in 2009. The Agency invests in high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment. ARPA-E is changing what’s possible by thinking big, thinking bold, and thinking differently about energy innovation. For more information on ARPA-E and its innovative project portfolio, please visit http://www.arpa-e.energy.gov/.